The province has added $10 million, extended eligibility, and made the application process simpler for farmers accessing the program
By Jackie Clark
The provincial government announced additional funds and changes to the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program in a press conference on April 8. The original program was launched last year to try to protect agricultural workers from COVID-19.
“Our government wants to continue to help and support (farmers) in their tremendous efforts to stop the spread of the virus in the workplace,” Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, said at the conference.
“Our government is investing $10 million in funding for a redesigned Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program,” he said.
“Under the redesigned program, farms and agri-food businesses that hire three or more employees will be eligible for funding,” Hardeman explained. “We’ve also expanded the list of eligible workers and business to include corn detasselers, chicken catchers, transporter, hatcheries and primary processing.”
The fund will cover costs of PPE, workplace upgrades, temporary housing or transportation in case of an outbreak, and other eligible health and safety measures.
“We’ve built increased flexibility into the program to make sure it can respond to emerging issues and risks,” Hardeman said. “We’ve made the application and approval process simpler to help support our farmers during this critical time of the pandemic.”
The government will announce more details and open the intake for applications on April 22, and keep the window open until all funds are used, he explained.
“Depending on the conditions at that time we may need to proceed beyond that,” he added.
Farms can receive a maximum of $15,000 and don’t have to wait for approval to make purchases, Hardeman explained. The program will allow them to submit receipts to the government for compensation if it fits the category.
“This evolution is a prime example of the partnership industry has had with government during these difficult times,” Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, said at the press conference.
Certain farm workers may already or soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Agricultural workers residing in congregate living facilities are included in Phase 2 of Ontario’s vaccination plan.
“The Ministry of Health is looking at all methods of trying to make sure (the vaccine) is distributed as quickly as possible,” Hardeman said. The government is collaborating with local health units and looking at “all options, which could include doing a program at the airport.”
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